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Carbohydrates Matter, At Least At The Low End (There Is No Such Thing As A "Calorie" To Your Body, Part VII)
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November 13, 2013
9:38 pm
Jacquie
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Hmm- just to clarify, I was talking about the effect of real whole food and whether you are now saying that veges are also a problem? I'm trying to figure out how this paper might reflect on the 'eat like a predator" page here.
Thanks JS, this is my go-to blog for making sense of this stuff, but I feel like I'm missing something this time

November 14, 2013
1:11 am
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Ash:

While the plural of "anecdote" is not "fact", there exists enough anecdotal evidence that I felt it necessary to keep an open mind.

 

François:

"I was certain that there was some kind of treshold to trigger the real benefits of low-carbing. ... I guess this treshold must have variations from individual to individual."

I believe you're correct...and I'll be exploring metabolic individuality in detail in future installments.

 

pzo:

Much of what passes for "nutrition information" is just provocation marketing.  Make bold claims that YOUR CURRENT DIET IS KILLING YOU!!11!, throw in a couple half-assed scientific references to an obscure biochemical pathway with no real-world relevance, and you too can sell a $39.95 e-book.

That said, my purpose here is not to advocate low-carb for everyone: I'm not even low-carb myself!  I'm suggesting that, based on the evidence, "mostly-sorta-low-carb" is a bad place to live: you're getting most of the negatives without most of the benefits.  Result: either go keto or don't.

Also, it's not clear that alcohol has the same effect as sugar or maltodextrin: see, for instance, this study.

Yes, going keto will leave you with a much smaller glycolytic reserve for sprinting, on a bike or anywhere else.  You have to decide for yourself if that's worth it.  And "feeling spacey" is keto-adaptation: again, being "mostly-sorta-low-carb" generally stops you from keto-adapting.

 

Sofie:

I'm not ready to dismiss fine liquor as nerga, but I take your point.  We all have to decide what's most important to us.  Relevant: "Just Say It," Jim Steel.

 

Anniee:

I suspect it'll matter, but I'm not sure by how much.  My guess is that it's is likely to be an insulin-mediated response and fructose doesn't stimulate insulin secretion, so other carbs would be at least as bad or worse -- but I'm not going to invest much in that hypothesis.

Frankly, a combination of measurement error and metabolic individuality means you'll most likely have to experiment on your own anyway.

 

Sherwood:

"Wonder what the results would be if various long chain carbs were used instead?"

As I said above to Anniee, I suspect they won't be much different unless they're so long as to have a meaningfully lower GI.  However, if they're so long that they're soluble fiber (i.e. indigestible except by colon bacteria) instead of carbohydrate, they probably won't have the same fattening effect.

"It would appear that at low levels carbs are acting as a catylist, or are an essential starting material for some metabolic process. No carbs means that some process is blocked, and another process is used.  What happens to the extra calories?"

I agree.  One guess would be peroxisomal oxidation, which would waste much of the energy as heat, but I don't know. 

Note that some of the studies in previous installments measured fecal losses, oxygen consumption, etc...unfortunately, this one did not.

 

More soon!

JS

November 14, 2013
3:58 am
neal matheson
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Hi J
"I'm not even low-carb myself!" What would be your definition of low-carb?
I think I would fall into the "mostly sorta lowcarb" space I eat a small amount of carbohydrates in fruit and starch mostly every day.

November 14, 2013
4:06 am
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Paul Lee:

"Begs the question of how to loose weight on high carb without starvation/fasting or spending hours on a treadmill."

1. Restore metabolic flexibility if possible, through a combination of moderate exercise over time

2. Pay close attention to nutrient density, as hunger is primarily nutrient-driven and it's easy to consume lots of empty starch

"If you are largely an inactive coach potato then zero/vlc will be the only way to go"

I think that's usually true: if you're not fortunate enough to be naturally skinny, and you're not willing to exercise to keep your met flex, you'll probably need to force your RQ down with VLC/ZC.

 

MargaretRC:

"That explains nicely why my husband was able to lose a fair amount of fat when he went very low carb and exercised a lot, but gained it all back as soon as he reduced exercise and allowed a relatively small amount of carbs (mostly wheat, not sugar) back in."

That's a double whammy: he lost the advantage of VLC, and he probably lost some met flex due to no longer exercising.  Maybe even a triple whammy, given how sensitive some people are to gluten.

I'm glad you find my work valuable!

 

Paleobird:

P*atarians are remarkably resistant to the introduction of facts.  If you want a laugh, read this and note the lack of response.

 

Chris Highcock:

As I noted above, this experiment doesn't tell us where the extra energy went — though other experiments measured it, or attempted to (e.g. Part VI). 

We know it didn't vanish, because physics is true — but that's not helpful.  Analogy: If my toilet overflows, it's not helpful to say "Your problem is obvious: more water is entering your toilet than leaving it."  We're only interested in how to get more water to leave the toilet, and "how?" is a much more pressing question than "why?"

Therein lies the difference between physics and the naive application of CICO.  Physics says "In a closed system, energy is neither created nor destroyed."  CICO says "Calories out has a direct linear relationship to exercise, calories in (as approximated by Wilbur Atwater based on the average of a series of empirical measurements in the 1800s), and nothing else."

 
Jacquie:

First, optimum health and fat loss are not exactly the same goal.  They're usually congruent — but I view fat loss as a consequence of good health.  If your body is functioning properly and well-nourished, it should be happy to let go of some fat stores — whether VLC or not.

That being said, not everyone has good metabolic flexibility, or can restore it quickly via exercise (there's a study I can't find now showing that people who became T2D at an early age did not restore met flex with exercise, unlike people who became T2D later on), in which case VLC can help.

Moving on to the type of carb: I don't think we can know, based on this experiment, whether it's only the refined sugar, or whether other carbs have the same effect at 10%.  If I had to guess, I'd say what I said above to Anniee: any sugary or starchy carb will have the same effect.  Exception: green veggies that aren't sugary/starchy root veggies (onions, carrots, potatoes), whose few carbs tend to be mostly theoretical and used in digestion.  (I tend to agree with Paul Jaminet that veggie carbs don't count.)

That being said, it's something you have to experiment with on your own, because my thoughts on a rat study don't trump your own direct experience.

Finally, let me be clear: the point of this article is not that everyone should eat VLC or zero-carb!  (I don't prescribe a specific carb intake in "Eat Like A Predator" beyond "don't eat lots more carbohydrate than you need to.")  The message I'm hoping to communicate is this: stay out of the no-man's-land between 5% and 15% carbs.  (Higher if you're very physically active, and carbs from green veggies don't count.)

Does this help?

 

More soon!

JS

November 14, 2013
4:15 am
neal matheson
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To elaborate, it is unlikely that I would be able to eat (or afford) a ketogenic diet due to well, basically I don't want eat seperately from my family.

November 14, 2013
4:44 am
Renaud
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Hi J,

I'm with you about this no man's land between 5-15% (and also about things like CKD). I just think this study is nowhere near convincing.

November 14, 2013
8:01 am
Paul Lee
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My own experience of keto like diets is that appetite diminishes markedly which offsets their costs a little, which perhaps ties in JS's feeling that hunger is indicative of deficiency of some sort. My own theory is that some extent humans are fativores and crave fat. After all if you don't eat, that is what the body provides you with from your own store! But I agree bags of rice and potatoes are cheap, and tempting!

November 14, 2013
12:18 pm
Dave
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Thanks for another great article! You reiterated a point I first read on Peter's Hyperlipid blog: clinical rodent studies on 'high fat' diets are also high sugar diets. So, are we really testing the effect of dietary fat in isolation? Apparently not.

Though fat loss is no longer a concern for me, I have seen benefits from continuing to eat low carb in conjunction with intermittent fasting. For one, fasting is easy. Secondly, I ride my bicycle to and from work. At the start of my low carb lifestyle nearly two years ago, I did notice a drop in strength on climbing hills. I think I've since regained my metabolic flexibility. Now, at my 'most fasted' part of the day, riding my bike uphill to get home, I've got energy I never knew I had before.

November 15, 2013
12:36 am
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Sean:

You're misunderstanding the paper you quote, which is understandable: Lopaschuk tends to overrepresent his search for a drug to help CHD patients as a quest for heart health in general.

It's an interesting scientific detour, though, so I'll explain what's going on.

First, anyone who has read a basic biochemistry textbook will know that "Fatty acids are the heart's main source of fuel, although ketone bodies as well as lactate can serve as fuel for heart muscle. In fact, heart muscle consumes acetoacetate in preference to glucose." (Biochemistry, 5th edition, section 30.2)

Why might this be the case?

"Unlike skeletal muscle, heart muscle functions almost exclusively aerobically, as evidenced by the density of mitochondria in heart muscle. Moreover, the heart has virtually no glycogen reserves." (Ibid.)

Therefore, a heart running on fat is not an accident, nor a sign of sickness!  The heart is very specifically designed to run completely on fat. 

This is not just true of humans: it is true of all known animals.  (At least the ones with hearts.)  This means that hundreds of millions of years of evolution have selected all known animals for the ability to run their hearts completely on fat.

This is no surprise.  The liver's glycogen reserves (200-400 kcal) are rounding error compared to the body's fat reserves (typically over 100,000 kcal) — and since a stopped heart results in death in very short order, it's absolutely necessary that the heart have a consistent supply of energy.  (Also, fat-burning is "cleaner" than glucose-burning, but that's a whole another digression in itself.)

Furthermore, the heart cannot ever "go anaerobic", because a state in which the heart cannot deliver the necessary amount of oxygen because it's recovering from anaerobic exertion would be fatal within minutes.

So: why would the Lopaschuk paper imply that running on fat is bad?

"Efficiency" is a loaded word in everyday talk, but in the Lopaschuk paper, it's used with one very specific meaning: production of energy per unit of oxygen.  The paper explains at length why glucose metabolism is more "efficient" than fat metabolism — in the single, very specific sense of using less oxygen per ATP generated.

Of course, in everyday reality, oxygen efficiency is not important at all to the heart — because the lungs and bloodstream can deliver far more oxygen than it's possible to use.  For normal people, the limitation on oxygen delivery is the amount of blood that the heart itself can pump.  See, for instance, Bassett 2000: "…The increase in VO2max with training results primarily from an increase in maximal cardiac output (not an increase in the a-v O2 difference)."  This is a limitation of the heart's strength and endurance, not its oxygen supply — and it only occurs when exercising at maximal intensity! 

Thus, we can see that "oxygen efficiency" of the heart muscle is a red herring: it seems like it ought to be important, but it isn't.

With one single exception: Lopaschuk's primary area of research is attempting to find drug therapies for heart disease patients.  In CHD, the heart is unable to supply itself with enough blood to provide the oxygen it requires, due to narrowed arteries.  Therefore, causing the heart to switch to glucose as a fuel can provide a temporary reprieve, since glucose is more "oxygen-efficient" than fat.

This could be a life-extending therapy if he ever discovers a way to do it (though not a permanent solution: it'll keep people alive until they can get heart surgery) and I don't mean to minimize it — but Lopaschuk appears to dramatically overrepresent his quest for oxygen efficiency as a general health measure, when both biochemistry and evolutionary biology tells us this is wrong at the most basic level.

I hope this helps!

JS

November 15, 2013
2:50 am
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Renaud, Sean:

As I said above to Sherwood, we don't know where the extra energy went.  Re: your second question, I see no evidence that growth was stunted by the zero-carb diet.

1. Zucker rats are sexually mature at six weeks.

2. Note the abstract: "The subscapular and epididymal fat pats were increased 42% and 44%, respectively, in animals consuming the 10% sucrose diet compared to all other groups."

3. We don't have figures for total weight...but a mature non-fatty Zucker rat weighs perhaps 400g, and the rats gained 20g in four weeks, so weight gain during the four-week experiment (20g) was perhaps 5%.  Even if they were half adult size, we're still talking about a difference between 10% weight gain on the most fattening lab chow possible and zero weight gain. 

A 5-10% difference doesn't qualify as "stunted".

 

Johnnyv:

No, rats aren't human -- but they're much more like humans than mice are, being naturally omnivorous, so I take rat studies more seriously than mouse studies.  (Exception: fatty Zucker rats, and anything else bred to be obese.)

The only human study I'm familiar with that features similarly extreme dietary compositions is Keckwick and Pawan 1956 -- which comes to similar conclusions, though I'm reluctant to rely on it because it was so short.  (Note that the "refutation" of Keckwick and Pawan (Hood 1970) only ran for eight days, therefore featuring exactly the same problem.)

People like to cite one and disparage the other, depending on their preconceived bias, but the only difference I see is that Keckwick and Pawan were honest about the real-world problems of getting people to stick to an extreme diet, even when they're hospital inpatients.  (Therefore, Keckwick and Pawan is a "metabolic ward" study, because all that means is the subjects slept in a hospital.  It's no guarantee they didn't cheat: there's plenty of food in hospitals.)

 

con:

That's why I wrote this article: it seems to jibe with many people's observed experience.

Congratulations on losing 95# and keeping it off!  Statistically, almost no one does that without gastric bypass.

 

BawdyWench, Jacquie:

See my reply above to Jacquie.

 

neal matheson:

I'm certainly "low-carb" compared to average consumption and the nutrition guidelines -- but I don't make any effort to restrict my intake beyond eating like a predator and not cheating too often, so I don't feel comfortable calling myself "low-carb".

Again, I'm not recommending that you go ketogenic...I'm just cautioning about ending up in "kinda-sorta-low-carb" by accident.  Fortunately, dietary experiments are easy to do, and inexpensive compared to medical intervention!

 

Renaud:

"I just think this study is nowhere near convincing."

Convincing of what?

 

Paul Lee:

In general, I believe the effects of food on hunger are more important than their differing "caloric" value...but I already wrote that series of articles.

 

Dave:

I remember the first time I ate nothing all morning or for lunch, rode my bicycle in the afternoon, and made it back without feeling like I was going to starve or faint...it was wonderful!  I think the best part of regaining metabolic flexibility is the freedom from having to eat every few hours.

One advantage of fasted training is that it increases your basal rate of fat oxidation, so you're less dependent on glucose.  I'm glad it's working for you!

 

I'm finally caught up!  Thanks, everyone, for bringing an interesting discussion to the table.

JS

November 15, 2013
6:46 am
Michelle T
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Hmmm ... very interesting study. I don't eat many carbs because I can't digest bread and pasta, but this is definitely something worth sharing. I will admit that I am a calorie counter, though :/

November 15, 2013
10:57 pm
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Michelle T:

As I've said before, I think most of the benefit of calorie counting comes from the simple act of keeping a food log, regardless of calories: it's easy for junk to sneak back into our diets, and keeping track of what we eat is often enough to cause us to cut down our consumption of junk.

That being said, there can be a place for calorie counting once you've determined a roughly optimal diet and are simply trying to figure out how much of your preferred foods to eat. Otherwise, you're not just comparing apples to oranges -- you're comparing them to coconut cream, potatoes, broccoli, and prime rib!

JS

November 15, 2013
11:41 pm
js290
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JS,

re: efficiency

Per carbon atom, fatty acids supplies more ATP, and RER is lower. This would indicate fat uses less oxygen. Also from Cahill's Fuel Metabolism in Starvation:

β-HYDROXYBUTYRATE: THE MOST EFFICIENT FUEL Veech and colleagues discovered that administering β-hydroxybutyrate to the perfused rat heart in place of glucose increased work output but decreased oxygen consumption (35).

(35) Control of glucose utilization in working perfused rat heart.

re: CICO

The other fundamental problem with CICO is it incorrectly treats CI and CO independently. In the reality of the coupled system that is metabolism, CI and CO affects each other.

November 18, 2013
11:04 pm
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js290:

You are correct that fat uses less oxygen per ATP generated -- but glucose contains much more oxygen than fat does (remember: C6-H12-O6 vs. long chains of carbon and hydrogen attached to one glycerol), so the net result is that more exogenous oxygen is required to oxidize fat.

This short letter neatly sums up the situation: "...Each gram of palmitate produces significantly more high-energy bonds than a gram of glucose, and the caloric value of the stored high-energy phosphate bonds derived from the oxidation of a gram of palmitate is 2.4 times greater than that derived from a gram of glucose, albeit at a greater relative cost in oxygen. Hence, when oxygen is abundant and food is scarce, there is an advantage in utilizing fatty acids for fuel as opposed to using glucose. The reverse, however, would occur when food is plentiful and oxygen is scarce."

Result: fat should be the preferred and most efficient fuel any time we are not pushing the limits of our aerobic capacity ("oxygen is scarce"). 

And, in fact, this is how animal bodies work.

JS

November 20, 2013
9:28 am
Howard
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@Sophie: "No, life is completely enjoyable without drinking."

I had to read that twice before I noticed the comma. 😉

Back in college, I had plenty of opportunity to observe people who considered it fun to get drunk. I tried it. Exactly once. The experience was excruciatingly bad. To this day, I'm utterly bewildered as to why anyone would do that more than once. I conclude that enjoyability of life without drinking may depend heavily on both genetics and epigenetics, since my experience with that differed substantially from that of most of the others I have observed.

BTW, I have also experienced morphine (legally, routinely used as a pre-op sedative in Navy hospitals back when I was in the Navy). I also wonder why anybody would want a second hit of that stuff, too. It was awful.

There is one drug that I have experienced about which I completely understand the addiction potential. A Navy doctor sprayed some mist up my nose before examining my sinuses, and within a few seconds, I could tell it was the most powerful decongestant I had ever experienced. I also felt 10 feet tall and bulletproof. *Everything* was suddenly better. I asked him what the hell that was, and he replied that it was 0.5% cocaine in distilled water. Which really scared me. I know for certain sure that I really need to avoid that stuff, because if I ever got started, it would kill me. I would not be able to stop.

======

@JS: "Congratulations on losing 95# and keeping it off! Statistically, almost no one does that without gastric bypass."

I lost a little over 100 lbs, and have kept it off for 13 years now (no gastric bypass) using a grain-free low-carb diet, with about a 15 lb fluctuation. Only problem is that I needed to lose 150 lbs, and that last 50 lbs is proving to be truly stubborn. I may need to try Jimmy's nutritional ketosis experiment. Or, since those keto strips are prohibitively expensive, I may need to just go below 10% carb (I generally stay around 35-40g/day), and cut the protein back a bit (which I started a couple of weeks ago, but haven't since any huge results yet).

I've heard that you can actually make a living bragging about a 100 lb weight loss, but I think that folks looking at me would definitely notice that I'm still chubby, so I lack the credibility needed to pull that off. However, 50 lbs overweight beats 150+ lbs overweight.

November 22, 2013
1:56 pm
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Howard:

Drug responses are strongly individual.  Some people, like yourself, find alcohol uninteresting, while others center their lives around obtaining it.  Others find cocaine uninteresting, while you find it strongly addictive.

I'm sure this is because different drugs tickle different receptors and boost (or inhibit) different hormones and neurotransmitters -- as do different dietary compositions.  I'll explore metabolic individuality in future installments.

As far as "that last 50 pounds", that's going to be very difficult, because you're strongly fighting leptin dynamics at that point -- you don't get to 150# of extra fat without some adipocyte hyperplasia (more fat cells, not just bigger fat cells).  ItsTheWooo has posted at length about her usually-successful strategies for dealing with this.  Others find that reintroducing some amount of carb cycling helps...but at some point you may have to kill off some of those tiny shrunken non-leptin-producing fat cells, whether invasively (lipo) or non-invasively (cryolipolysis, lasers). 

The good news is that none of this is necessary to be in good health: it's purely a cosmetic problem.

JS

December 2, 2013
8:08 pm
Johnnyv
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"that last 50 pounds"
Better hope you were overeating butter and not soy or fish oil.
http://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2013/757593/

Look at the difference in adipocyte number!
I think I would write a different conclusion to the paper authors based on the data: "A diet low in polyunsaturated fat vs saturated and monounsaturated fat protects against adipocyte hyperplasia under conditions of overfeeding!"

Essential fatty acids indeed but only in tiny quantities.

December 5, 2013
2:35 am
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Johnnyv:

That's a very interesting case of equal total weight and fat gain causing dramatically different metabolic effects...

...and I'm sure similar situations contribute to the dramatic inter-individual variation in weight loss outcomes at the same "caloric deficit".  Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

JS

December 24, 2013
5:27 am
La Frite
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Hi J,

Cool article. I just note that the study uses coconut oil, which is quite full of MCTs that are converted into ketone bodies. It would be nice to have a study as this one but using butter as well (far less MCT amount), and another rat group using say olive oil or something very low in PUFA anyway but very high in MUFA. I think that using coconut oil is a little biased towards ketone production. But on the other hand, just adding 10% of sucrose totally reverses the results. That's amazing.

For those who are LC dieters, just add resistant starch (30-40g / day) as described in details at freetheanimal.com

D.

December 24, 2013
9:34 pm
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La Frite:

Regarding your question, Romestaing 2007, from Part II, shows that coconut oil is indeed far less fattening per calorie than butter -- but butter causes greater satiation and satiety, causing the rats to eat less of it.  (Butter is still less fattening per calorie than standard chow.) 

The RS stuff is very interesting, but it's being oversold so hard (I've already encountered several straight-up misrepresentations of the scientific literature) that I don't take any of the hype at face value.  And vinegar has many of the same properties (e.g. improvements in blood glucose control -- documented by scientific studies, not just uncontrolled n=1), plus it's an amazing topical AND internal antibacterial (SIBO? Drink vinegar, it'll be gone soon).  The main difference I see is that no one's driving the hype train for vinegar.  (PROTIP: acetic acid is the shortest SCFA.)

JS

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